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[Tohoku] Retracing Soma Nomaoi’s History of Over a Thousand Years
Soma Nomaoi is a festival that is held every July in Minamisoma, a city in Fukushima Prefecture that faces the ocean. With a history spanning more than 1,000 years, this festival draws in more than 100,000 visitors from all over Japan. With that, we set out on a journey to Minamisoma in a bid to learn about the history of this festival.
Learn About the History of Soma Nomaoi at the Museum
Our first stop was Minamisoma City Museum, where you can look at exhibits on Minamisoma's history and nature, which ranges from ancient fossils to modern living. The city's traditional event, Soma Nomaoi, is also on display at this museum, including explanations on the overview and history of this festival.
Soma Nomaoi, an important national intangible folk cultural asset, is an event that is held in Minamisoma on the last Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of July each year. It is a thrilling festival where warriors clad in armor mount horses and parade on the streets.
*Go to the Official Homepage for more details on Soma Nomaoi.
A museum curator explained the history of the festival to us in detail.
“The origin of Soma Nomaoi dates back to the 10th century, tracing its roots to a training exercise for warriors in which horses grazing on a field represented enemies. That military exercise was then transformed into a festival to pray for peace and prosperity in the region. Today, it has become a competition in which horsemen scramble for “sacred flags,” instead of capturing horses that have been released into a field.”
The Soma Nomaoi event in 2018 was witnessed by around 130,000 visitors over its three-day run. We were even more intrigued when we learned of its origin.
Explore the Shrine Dedicated to Horses
Having learnt about its history, we then visited the shrines where Soma Nomaoi is actually held.
The festival is organized by three shrines of Soma, and one of those shrines is Soma Ota Shrine, which we visited after the museum. The festival’s departure ceremony is held at the grounds of this shrine.
Next up, we went to Soma Odaka Shrine, another one of the three Soma shrines. The departure ceremony is also held at this shrine, as well as the “Nomakake” that takes place on the third day of the festival.
The Nomakake is a traditional ritual reenacting the scene where horsemen captured the horses with bare hands and offered them to the deities.
Savor Homemade Lunch in an Traditional Japanese-style House
For lunch, we went to Shokusai-An, a restaurant that is housed in a renovated Japanese house that was built in 1919.
At this Japanese-style house, which was once a sake brewery, you will get to enjoy a meal while marveling at the beautiful courtyard. The daily set meal is made by a local. Every aspect of the meal was thoughtfully prepared, up to the little servings of side dishes.
Within the premises, there is a permanent exhibition room, a gallery, and a souvenir shop.
Visit the Temple Where the Ancestors of Soma are Enshrined
Dokeiji Temple in Mt. Odaka enshrines the feudal lord and head of the Soma family, who had lived in this area. From the 16th to the 27th heads, almost all the heads of the Soma family, along with their wives and other family members, are buried at this temple.
It is rare to find such a massive cemetery, so this area has come to be designated as a historic site by the city.
On the day before the Soma Nomaoi festival, a ritual is held in front of this grave to pray for everything to go smoothly during the festival.
Shop at the Roadside Station
Our last stop was the roadside station in Minamisoma. Aside from selling souvenirs and serving food, this rest area also sometimes serves as a venue for events. Annexed to a park and a community building, it is not just a spot for sightseers, but is also a place for relaxation for the locals.
We were able to catch a glimpse of the many facets of Soma Nomaoi – from its history, up to the life and specialty products of people in Minamisoma. We would love to visit again during the Soma Nomaoi festival!
About the Rainbow Project
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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